Distant cousins of rugby


Football has a huge family tree with many branches that all represent a separate discipline. At its base, in turn, you’ll find the first written code of the game penned at the rugby school by William Delafield Arnold, W. W. Shirley, and Frederick Hutchins in 1845.

The Football Association, the entity regulating English association football, appeared in 1863 – that’s when the two sports separated. Association football became the more popular sport, spreading across the world and inspiring everything from anime series to video slots at 7Sultans Casino – but rugby has remained a popular and widely played game to this day.

Over the years, several offshoots of the rugby family tree emerged, giving birth to various games that couldn’t deny their origins – they are based on variants of the original rules from the Rugby School that thrive in their own corners of the globe.

Canadian football

In the 1860s, some British soldiers played a match of rugby against Montréal civilians. The game seems to have charmed the locals – soon, Canadian football emerged, with rules based on the classic rugby football rulebook. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, several football clubs were formed, and the game gained a following.

In time, the traditional Canadian variant of rugby was changed to resemble American football, under the Burnside rules named after John Thrift Meldrum Burnside, captain of the University of Toronto football team.

Today, Canadian football is in many ways similar to American football, down to the equipment worn by the players.

Australian rules football

Tom Wills, captain of the Victoria cricket team, proposed the formation of a football club to keep the cricketers fit during the winter as early as 1858. Football was played in Australia for years at the time but the games were sporadic at best. The same year, several “kickabouts” were organized by Wills and others, sometimes with respect to the traditional British rules, other times, with no rules at all.

The official rules of Australian football were based on a rulebook penned by Wills, W. J. Hammersley, J. B. Thompson, and teacher Thomas H. Smith in 1859. Their goal was to create a set of simple rules fit for the rough surfaces around Melbourne and to eliminate the toughest rules of rugby football (such as shin-kicking) to reduce the chance of injury.

Aussie rules football is often played on a cricket field or another oval field. It is the most popular sport in Australia by spectator attendance and television viewership, and the AFL is the country’s richest sports body.

Tag rugby

Rugby has several interesting variants played around the world – think “snow rugby” in Finland or “underwater rugby” in Germany. There is, in turn, one that is more interesting than any other because it takes physical contact out of the game.

Tag rugby was invented in Gibraltar in 1983, by the Gibraltar Rugby Union, because of the lack of grass pitches. Each player has a 10-inch cord tucked into a waistband, and opponents have to remove it to “tackle” them. This rugby variant, codified in 1990 by PE teacher Nick Leonard in England, is widely used both by the rugby union and rugby league communities in the development and training of players. Its variants are especially popular in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK.


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